Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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In The Odyssey, how is the social standing of women portrayed?

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Interestingly, women are shown to be greatly respected in this text, and certainly the various male characters are respectful towards the women they come across, even the suitors, to a certain extent. This does point towards the fact that women are perhaps not as powerless as we would imagine given the patriarchal world that they are a part of. However, there is another aspect of some importance to do with the presentation of women, and that is how they are described as being temptations to men. For example, Circe and Calypso are two seductresses whose power and social standing is based on the charms that they exert, and this is something that presents a serious barrier to Odysseus as he tries to get back to Penelope. The Sirens are another example of tempting women, and even Penelope herself could be viewed as using her feminine wiles to beguile to suitors and keep them thinking that she is interested in remarrying. Even a character like Nausikaa, who is revered and admired as a princess, is shown to be something of a impediment to Odysseus through her love for him:

A while ago he seemed an unpromising man to me. Now he even resembles one of the gods, who hold high heaven. If only the man to be called my husband could be like this one, a man living here, if only this one were pleased to stay here.

Again and again, Odysseus seems to go through life with women throwing themselves at him, tempting him to swerve from his purpose of returning to Ithaca and Penelope. Women therefore are shown to have importance and social standing through their position and their sexual charms. However, at the same time, it is important to remember that they are subject to the will of the gods, and all of them have to accept divine will in their lives, even if it means they are left to pine for lost love or to wait for its return. This ultimately presents the female characters as being rather powerless, as they are not able to make their own decisions in life and are presented as nothing more than playthings of the gods. Even Penelope, who arguably gets what she has been waiting for with the return of her husband, has to accept the fact that whilst he has been away he has consorted with various other females. 

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